I’m currently building a 7-foot long trestle table out of 4/4 quartersawn white oak, and have been at it for a few months now. This is my first large, proper piece of furniture ever, and it is a constant process of pausing at nearly every step to learn a new technique and/or acquire or build the right tool, jig or appliance for the job. It’s taking forever to get this piece together and I know my fiancee would like to see this finished (as would I), however I’m learning immense amounts about woodworking as I go, so it’s worth the process.
In this case, after much focus on a challenging set of table legs (which only need refinement at this point) I need to edge joint my tabletop boards for glue-up. I finally bought a #7 jointer plane as I lack a machine jointer and using my table saw with a jig just doesn’t seem to yield the results I’m looking for. I think the problem with the table saw jointing jig is that it’s difficult to keep the long, heavy board against the fence and get a straight cut. With a machine jointer, gravity is more on your side.
I did give freehand planing a try, but I find it difficult to keep the edge square to the faces. I probably just need more practice. I definitely need more practice. Of course, I can just plane two boards together to create more surface area, but that often requires that those specific edges go together in the glue-up, and I’d like a little more freedom to move things around.
Enter the Veritas Jointer Fence. This is basically a plate of extruded aluminum that attaches to the side of a hand plane with rare earth magnets to help guide it across the edge of a board. Simple. Or it should be. I found that when I used the plane with the fence, I was still having a hard time keeping the tool aligned to the face of the board, mainly due to the fact that only the extreme edge of the plane was riding on the surface of the wood with the rest hanging out into space on the other side, weighing it down and making it awkward to exert lateral force while pushing forward and downward. Jointers are quite a bit wider and more massive than a #4 or #5. I wanted a more solid, smooth feel to the operation, especially if I’m working on several 7-foot long boards.
My solution was simply to screw a 1/2″ thick, 3″ wide piece of hardwood to the inside face of the fence, which yields the result of centering the jointer on the board’s edge. Now my jointer rides across the edge dead straight and square, requiring only a bit of sideways pressure to keep the fence flush. Most of the force I’m applying now is normal downward pressure for standard planing operations.
I take a few passes to get a flat surface, then take a pass with the #4 to smooth it out. The #4 is narrow and light enough that it does not require the use of the fence. I imagine that if I were planing the edge of 8/4 stock, the jointer wouldn’t need it either. All in all, with a slight modification, the Veritas fence works great for reliably (and very quickly) edge jointing stock in < 6/4 range and that makes it worth the ~$50 price tag to me.
If I were not already a fan of Roy Underhill’s I would certainly be converted now. Excuse me while I dash out to find the entire collection of The Woodwright’s Shop.
As I’m starting down the road toward designing and building my first bench, I found this article by Christopher Schwarz very useful.
Last Saturday I attended a hand-cut dovetail class at Highland Woodworking, taught by local woodworker, Jim Dillon. I was excited to take this class as it was my first go at any sort of classroom instruction in the craft. I have to say, it was really enjoyable. For one, this was the first time I’ve used a proper workbench. I am completely sold and am already looking at bench plans on Finewoodworking.com as a possible next project. Just having a flat reference surface and a proper vise makes an amazing impact on the quality and repeatability of my work. I don’t know how I’m getting along without this essential tool.
Jim did an excellent job of teaching the six hour class. I’d say it was about 10% classroom instruction and 90% doing, with him coming around and checking on our individual progress. We started out doing two to three rounds of single dovetail creation. My first attempt was of course, pretty terrible. So was the second. The third however, showed some promise. I think the main issue I was having was a lack of experience and accuracy with my Japanese dovetail saw. I love how sharp and effortless these saws are, but I’m not a fan of the long handle and the flexible, ultra-thin blade, though I do enjoy cutting on the pull stroke. I’ve been holding out for a proper Western style saw, and when Jim informed the class that by attending, we’d get 10% off in the store, I jumped at the chance and picked up a Veritas 14 tpi Dovetail Saw during lunch break. Fortunately, I had already budgeted for tools this week so this really worked out.
There is something to be said for using the right tools. This saw fits my style (and my hand) perfectly. My saw cuts were immediately more accurate. The short, rigid blade on the Veritas gives great feedback while working. The angle of the handle leaves little doubt as to how to handle the tool, whereas the Japanese style with a loooong straight handle means I’m using slightly different grip styles all the time. All in all, a good buy, and all reviews seem to suggest that this is on par with the respectable Lie-Nielsen version which is about twice as much money. I do like the looks of the Lie Nielsen as it’s tricked out in brass and all that good stuff, but in this case, sheer functionality wins the day.
With my new saw in hand, I made quick (sort of) and accurate (mostly) work of the last part of the class, a simple box build. I have never been able to hand saw anything as accurately as I did this little box. There were plenty of tiny mistakes, but I imagine with a few thin shims and some cyanoacrylate glue and sawdust, it’d look close to perfect. I look forward to practicing my dovetails here and there and finally including the joint in a formal project. This might be perfect for a little box to store my meerschaum pipe.
It seems that the majority of the craft can certainly be explored solo by reading books, watching videos and practicing but there is simply no substitute for good classroom instruction with an expert on hand to give a word or two to steer you in the right direction.
Sometimes I head down a new creative direction for arbitrary reasons. Maybe it’s some sort of attention deficit thing. Maybe a little ADD is essential for keeping things fresh and diverse. The other day I was sitting at my workbench, knee deep in my unreasonably slow and deliberate attack on my table project, when I looked at a pretty trashed white oak scrap I was using to help secure a workpiece under a clamp. I don’t really remember why, but I grabbed my pencil and quickly traced out a spoon shape using the entire length of the scrap, curving the handle as gracefully as I could around a deep gouge in the wood.
“Okay, so what now?”
I figured I could easily cut out the rough shape with my Olson coping saw, and so I did. I have minimal experience with this type of saw so this was great experience. With the basic shape roughed out, I decided to figure out how the heck I was going to cut out the spoon shape with what hand tools I had on hand. I really had nothing ideal for the task, so on Saturday I rode my bike over to Highland Woodworking and after some amount of consultation with one of the guys over there, I selected a Hirsch spoon gouge. It’s a beautiful tool and the edge was decently work-ready.
I chiseled out the bowl of the spoon fairly quickly and easily, then used my spokeshave to shape and smooth the handle. Finally I finished with 100 grit and 220 grit sandpaper and a few coats of food-safe mineral oil. Took me about two hours total. I figure with a little practice I could crank one of these out in much less time. A bandsaw and more diverse set of carving chisels would help. I’d also choose a much more fine-grained wood than white oak. Sounds like a great excuse to troll some of the bigger lumber yards in the area for some decent cutoff scraps. Cherry or maple sounds like a good plan.
I suppose the main excitement over this fairly entry-level little diversion is the fact that I never figured I’d dabble in any sort of carving, or at least not for a long time. Having a little foray into that territory makes more advanced work seem very doable.
And that’s a great lesson to be gained from this craft overall and part of why I dove into it in the first place. Simply trying out an aspect of a new experience makes it immediately less formidable and simply another skill to be mastered. Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Five Rings and the greatest swordsman who ever lived, said famously (and I’m paraphrasing) that if you learn the way broadly, you can then master all things. So the first step is to learn the bare essential pattern underlying the learning process and how you personally relate to it, and you can apply that process to quickly attain knowledge of other things. You begin to see the edge of how everything relates. Learn enough about enough things and pretty soon you start to see overlap, reducing your time as a novice and dabbler and propelling you toward easier mastery. This seems like a lot to plunge into after working on a lowly wooden spoon, but I tell you, the minute I put that curved chisel to wood to cut out that simple little hollow, I felt connected with all the fantastic carvers of all the insanely ornate furniture I’ve seen across my world travels. One cut leads to another to another until you have something special, and everything is always rooted in fundamental craft.
In my eyes, Musashi downplayed the experience of and importance of failure as part of the learning process. Of course, failure when cutting or gluing a board is ostensibly much different than when dueling to the death with a razor sharp katana, however, assuming both are survivable events, you can think critically after defeat to move forward and modify your approach for next time. I plan to fail a lot while learning woodworking, and especially with something new and expansive like woodcarving. My upcoming dovetail joinery class this Saturday looms large as a potential backdrop for some spectacular mistakes (though I’ll certainly do my best).
An exciting thing to understand is that at the end of the learning path, there is only and always more path. The master is only a master when he has learned the acme of skill as defined by the parameters of the craft while retaining the curiosity of a novice to learn and develop even more. Proficiency is a continuum, not an endpoint, putting the beginner immediately in the same arena as the expert. In a craft like modern woodworking, where it’s both simple and insanely difficult at once, where some of the best work is being made in modest garages and backyard sheds by people with little to no formal training, this continuum is very visible and strong.
I found a blog post on Lumberjocks by user “mafe” from over two years ago and it looks like a cool project I’d like to attempt. Having just finished my first plane (a standard 45 degree angle shoulder plane) it would be great to have a 12 degree companion, especially for narrow channels of harder, more stubborn end grain. Also, and probably more to the point, it’s just really satisfying to make my own tools. Page 1 is the plane construction. Page 2 covers making a tee blade from an old block plane blade.
This isn’t a super necessary project, just something to do for experience mainly. I’ll keep an eye out for an appropriate piece of hardwood to use for this. The bubinga worked pretty well last time, and if it’s the same cost, I’d be spending maybe 18 bucks for wood. Plus I just like to say “bubinga”.
If this is going to be a semi-regular topic on the blog, I figured I’d discuss one of my favorite go-to whiskeys, Laphroaig 10 year. (Lah-FROYG)
This is a Scotch and it is good.
I generally try to keep my whiskey purchases to $30 and under per bottle, however I have to make an exception for single malt Scotch. This 10 year is available at my local shop for around $40, which for what you get, makes this a huge bang for buck. After my initial contact with another Islay (EE-lay) Scotch by the name of Ledaig (LEH-jig) in York, England last year, I’m partial to this region’s output. We’re talkin’ tangy peaty goodness here with campfire smokiness pervading and a long lingering flavor. To me, this is what I think of when I specifically crave Scotch.
My girlfriend complains that it smells like gasoline (but she says that about practically all Scotch) so I just smile and try not to point it in her direction, like it’s a loaded gun. Plus, she can buy a whole case of her usual Trader Joe’s wine for the cost of one of these bottles, so I’m losing points for my lack of frugality as well, even though this is some dirt cheap stuff for a decent single malt. For what it’s worth, this is a very fragrant drink. I like the way it smells when mixed with the right kind of cool autumn air. I imagine that’s about right, and probably even intended, given the Laphroaig distillery is located right on the southern coast of Islay, Scotland.
I have other selections that I’d consider my absolute favorite (and I’ll get to those here eventually), but for the money, Laphroaig 10 is exceptional and is the Scotch I drink the most.